Union County commissioners remember Sept. 11 at anniversary ceremony

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MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — To commemorate that fateful day 20 years earlier when terrorists hijacked four airliners, resulting in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, damage to the Pentagon and the deaths of almost 3,000 innocent civilians, on Saturday, Sept. 11, the Union County Board of County Commissioners hosted a Union County 9/11 memorial service in Mountainside’s Echo Lake Park.

Many families and guests of Union County came together to honor the 60 Union County residents who died. Commissioner Chairperson Alexander Mirabella, who gave the welcome remarks during the service, recognized how important this day is to the nation and why every American should never forget. Mirabella also contemplated the future of these ceremonies.

“We’re taking time out of our day to remember the 60 people from Union County whom we lost during the Sept. 11 attacks 20 years ago,” Mirabella said on Saturday, Sept. 11. “Today’s service was very moving. You see the families, and when Mrs. Horning spoke about what that day meant to her — it’s just a very emotional day for me. When we think about it being 20 years later, I think we need to do two things: remember what happened, remember those we’ve lost, remember the bravery of our first responders and also, think about what we can do to move forward with our lives, in memory of those we lost. I think those are the two key things.

“I think every year we’ll have a service here, and it’s important just to remember. So, I expect in 20 years from now, God willing, I’ll be here, likely sitting in the audience and just remembering and honoring the people we’ve lost and the bravery of our first responders.”

The Horning family, from Scotch Plains, spoke about their loved one, Matthew Horning, during the service. Horning, who was 26 at the time, worked at Marsh & McLennan and was just starting out in information technology. Remembering how her son lived his life, his mother, Diane Horning, also opened up about how the family would like others to remember him.

“We’re here for a number of reasons,” Diane Horning said on Saturday, Sept. 11. “We’re honoring our son, Matthew Horning, who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, but we’re also here in gratitude for this lovely memorial that was built. If you asked Matthew, he’d tell you he was a ‘cog in the giant wheel.’ It’s yesterday and it’s 20 years ago. It’s fresh, it’s part of our being, it’s everything. It’s still devastating, and I still see the repercussions. I see the people who have since died because they’ve tried to do the right thing. I have a lot of emotions today. I want others to remember Matthew as a loving, kind, funny person with a zest for life and much more to give us than what he was allowed to.

“It was hard for me to speak,” she continued. “It took me time to think about it, but so many people came to me, and the idea came to me that I should thank everyone who came forward and lifted us up in our pain. So, that came easily. I’m looking forward to seeing my grandchildren grow up and hope that they will find a way to make this a more peaceful, equitable world.”

County Commissioner Bette Jane Kowalski, who read some of the names of lost loved ones during the service, remembered friends and colleagues whom she lost in the attacks as well. Kowalski believes that, despite the immense loss, it’s essential to come together and keep going.

“It’s important on a day like this, 20 years from 9/11, for us to be together to remember what happened and to commit ourselves to peace and understanding going forward,” Kowalski said on Saturday, Sept. 11.

“It’s still painful for all of us,” she continued. “Chris Grady, who worked in the World Trade Center for one of the financial companies, lived two blocks away from me in Cranford. I know his family misses him, but they have kept going, much like all of us have. We lost five other young men in Cranford that day, and we lost so many people around the county who had their whole lives ahead of them. Colleen Fraser, who was from Elizabeth and was an advocate for the rights of the disabled, she was lost, and we named a county building after her, and we miss her every day.

“As Mrs. Horning said, there’ve been positive things done in memory of those who are gone, and we just have to keep that going. I felt honored to read the names of some of those who were lost, and I was moved by the prayers, speeches and the way we came together.”

At the end of the service, all guests were invited to participate in a beautiful moment, the laying of long-stemmed, white roses at the site.

Among those participating in this event was Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli, who recalled where he was 20 years ago on this day.

“Today’s the remembrance of the fallen victims of the World Trade Center. It was a beautiful event to remember these folks that were brutally murdered by terrorists, and it was a nice event to keep their memories alive. Twenty years ago, I can remember where I was,” Corvelli said on Saturday, Sept. 11. “I was just getting off work when I was a Hillside police officer and I remember turning on the news. I used to like to take a shower before I went to bed, just to get comfortable. I turned the news on, and it was just unbelievable. The events of that day were just unbelievable, and there were a lot of phone calls where we had to go over to the Trade Center itself. As we were getting there, we weren’t even allowed to cross the bridge or go through the tunnels. So we were basically on standby until they figured things out. But the events of that day were just horrific.

“What I could remember was the day after; this brought folks together. I hope this memorializes and continues, because we need to get this country back to where folks aren’t fighting each other and bring a sense of unity back to all involved.”

County Commissioner Christopher Hudak also reflected on the Horning family’s remarks, adding that he hoped we can all honor the lives lost. Hudak said he believes ceremonies such as this will continue to bring communities together.

“It’s so hard not to be emotional,” Hudak said. “The further you get away from Sept. 11 — certainly, we all think about where we were, what we saw, what we were doing, how this day is similar, how it’s different — the loss of life was so staggering, and, as we’ve come out of the pandemic, the continued loss of life gives the perspective of commemorating those and making sure we honor those who have perished in such a senseless tragedy.

“I think, as we move out of this pandemic, we have to honor people in that way as well,” he continued. “Today was a tough day, but it’s an important day, and I’m happy to be here. Twenty years later, I want to be part of that change, and that’s where I hope people are coming to these ceremonies today, wanting to be part of bringing communities together. I think that’s what we did here today, and I hope we can do more of that as we go forward.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman